Tag Archives: theater magazine

The agony and the ecstacy

Actors Theatre of Phoenix has seen plenty of both in recent months after announcing that a huge infusion of cash would be needed to complete their current season, then deciding to move forward with a 2012-2013 season announcement though still working to raise full funding.

So it’s fitting I suppose that the first show planned for their 2012-13 season is Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs.” Daisey and his play became the focus of significant controversy after NPR’s Ira Glass retracted a January episode of “This American Life” featuring Daisey and the play due to “significant fabrications” — and Daisey’s been bombarded with more bad news since.

Folks eager to explore Daisey’s own take on his work can read an article Daisey wrote that’s titled “The Sin of Activism” — published in the April 2012 issue of American Theatre magazine, which has featured works of late that celebrate its four key values — artistry, diversity, global citizenship and activism.

Turns out Daisey was trained to think of activism as a dirty word, but drifted in that direction as his work “circled more and more around the fundamental conflict between the human and the inhuman in our culture.” His article for American Theatre details the evolution of his thought, process and product.

Today he’s a converstion story. “Action is the root of theatre,” writes Daisey. “Activism is the public face of that action. We need an American theatre that recognizes this. Now more than ever.” And I suppose Actors Theatre wouldn’t mind folks heeding the call by advocating on their behalf.

Following Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs,” Actors Theatre will stage “Opus” by violinist-turned-playwright Michael Hollinger – which imagines a string quartet preparing to perform a hefty bit of Beethoven at the White House when the erratic behavior of their resident genius necessitates that someone else  (who’s younger, less experienced and female) take his place. Think rehearsal room as pressure cooker.

New is next to godliness at Actors Theatre, and thank heavens for it. Next up is “The Fox on the Fairway” by playwright Ken Ludwig – described by Actors Theatre as “one of America’s greatest living writers of farce.” Ludwig is well-known to theater folk for writing “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Crazy for You.” But now, it seems, he’s turned his attention to “one man’s eternal love affair with golf.”

Also “A Steady Rain.” This baby was written by Keith Huff, lauded by Actors Theatre for helping to write and produce a little something on AMC called “Mad Men” — which Huff says he’s left behind to pursue other projects. “A Steady Rain” follows a pair of Chicago police officers whose mutual loyalty is tested when an unfortunate decision begets guilt, fear and corruption.

Actors Theatre plans to close its 2012-13 season with “Good People” by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, whose “The Rabbit Hole” won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for best drama. It’s the tale of a single mother with a special needs daughter who moves to the suburbs in search of new opportunities after losing her dollar store gig. “Good People” was nominated in 2011 for a Tony Award, the year “War Horse” went home with best play honors.

Turns out there’s a lovely piece about “Good People” and Lindsay-Abaire in the current issue of American Theatre magazine as well. It’s penned by Christopher Wallenberg, who details the playwright’s own working class roots and growing realization that new American plays weren’t reflecting the real struggles of folks to make it in a land that sometimes fails to deliver on its promises.

New is nifty, but relevance rules — and it’s something that Actors Theatre of Phoenix is nearing nicely with its 2012-13 season, which reads more “everyday” than “high art” during a period in American life in which few can afford time with theater experiences that feel more luxury than real-life. Let’s hope that Actors Theatre has accurately gauged the pulse of its audience, something absolutely essential to keeping their own heart beating.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about the May 10 movie theater broadcast of a live on-stage performance of “This American Life” (complete with dance and other fun things you can’t see through a radio) — and here to learn about Annie Baker’s “Body Awareness,” being performed by Actors Theatre through April 15.

Coming up: Photography on the fly

Circle time

I first encountered “circle time” as a young mother, when I’d volunteer in my children’s preschool classroom and everyone would gather to share music, stories or “show and tell” type offerings.

Today I enjoyed “circle time” of a different sort, as Lizabeth and I headed to the Herberger Theater Center for the final Actors Theatre performance of an Annie Baker play titled “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

It opens with students in a community acting class lying in a circle trying to count from one to ten within certain parameters, for the purpose of developing a certain mindfulness of those around them — with mixed results.

Valley audiences can experience another Baker work, titled “Body Awareness,” during Actors Theatre’s 2011-2012 season. The work of playwright Sarah Ruhl (whose “In the Next Room” was a hit for Actors Theatre earlier this season) also returns as Actors Theatre presents “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.”

Their 2011-2012 season opens with “A Conversation With Edith Head” by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen — and also includes “Next Fall” (Geoffrey Nauffts), “Hunter Gatherers” (Peter Sinn Nachtrieb) and “Time Stands Still” (Donald Margulies).

We enjoyed our time with “Circle Mirror Transformation” — more than we might have otherwise were it not for astute acting by Valley veterans of the stage.

Though I’d have been happy to simply sit and linger over the stunning set, designed by Kimb Williamson of Scottsdale Community College.

After the show we chatted and shared hugs with Maren Maclean (one of five actors in the show), who is one of Lizabeth’s most beloved acting teachers. Lizabeth was eager to share her college decision with Maclean in person. Her choice of an NYC school drew a fitting response: Duh!

Soon we were talking all things East Coast. Maclean’s upcoming reunion at “Indian Hills High School” in Oakland, New Jersey. Our attempts to snag “The Book of Mormon” tickets when we’re in NYC for Lizabeth’s college orientation.

I was keen on showing off my Mother’s Day gifts from Lizabeth — a bracelet and sterling silver earrings with a very circle/mirror vibe. I suspect I’ll be wearing them next Mother’s Day too — my first one without all three kids roosting at least part-time in the nest.

When we got home from the show, I made dinner before sitting down to relax with the latest issue of “American Theatre” magazine, a subscription I enjoy as a gift from my husband for another occasion I’ve all but fogotten by now.

There in the “On Stage: May/June 11″ section I spotted a picture of Maclean, Staci Robbins and Rusty Ferracane performing in “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

Just more evidence of the “full circle” nature of my day, and of life. The only thing missing is a bit of “circle time” with two and three year olds. Don’t be surprised if you see me sitting cross-legged on the floor somewhere singing along with a bunch of preschoolers this week.

That’s the best “circle time” of all.

– Lynn

Coming up: More new season announcements

It’s only for now

Phoenix Theatre presents Avenue Q, directed by Robert Kolby Harper, through this weekend

As the musical “Avenue Q” draws to a close, the cast comes together for a resounding chorus of a song called “For Now.” In between phrases, they throw in little teasers about current events or other things most of us hope will pass in a hurry.

Lizabeth recalls that when we saw a touring production of “Avenue Q” at ASU Gammage last season, the buzzword was “John McCain.” Other times it’s been “George Bush.”

We’ve seen several shows that use this device and it’s sometimes difficult to recall every political punchline. But Phoenix Theatre jabs in a different direction — taking aim at actor Charlie Sheen.

There are other differences too, including puppets who get a tad more enthusiastic during a sex scene that feels a bit longer than its touring counterpart. This is one puppet show that’s not even close to being appropriate for children. Since when do puppets read the Kama Sutra?

Emily Mulligan-Ferry plays the sweet Kate Monster and the saucy Lucy (pictured here)

Still, the adults in the crowd — mostly my age and above — loved it. It’s a far cry from the more classic, traditional Broadway fare we typically enjoy at Phoenix Theatre. A risky venture on their part, perhaps – but one that appears to be paying off.

I’m plenty entertained by everything I see at Phoenix Theatre — but uproarious laughter of the magnitude that greeted “Avenue Q” can be elusive for any theater company.

I worried, quite frankly, upon learning “Avenue Q” was being mounted by a regional theater company. It’s a show what can go wrong in so many ways if not tackled by a stellar cast and creative team.

But the stars aligned for “Avenue Q” in Phoenix — with each and every element executed masterfully.

In the vocal powerhouse department, three performers stood out during last Saturday’s matinee performance – David Errigio, Jr. (Nicky/Trekkie Monster/Bad Idea Bear), Emily Mulligan-Ferry (Kate Monster/Lucy) and Toby Yatso (Princeton/Rod). They also rocked in acting and puppetry world.

We always feel the love for Yatso, because he’s a longtime talent at Phoenix Theatre, and one of Lizabeth’s many amazing theater teachers at Arizona School for the Arts. But I’m adding Errigo to my list of must-see actors in all future roles. He’s fresh and espressive with impeccable comedic timing.

The “Gary Coleman” moments felt unnecessary and annoying during my first “Avenue Q” encounter — but it’s a brilliant bit when performed by Yolanda London, best known to Valley families for her work with Childsplay in Tempe.

L to R: Emily Mulligan-Ferry (Kate Monster), David Errigo, Jr. (Trekkie Monster) and Toby Yatso (Princeton)

In many ways, I prefer the Phoenix Theatre production — directed by Robert Kolby Harper – over the touring production of “Avenue Q.”

If you’re up for the sexual content, subtle and otherwise — and you’re not afraid of four-letter words beginning with letters other than “Q” — this is a “not to be missed” show. It’s some of the finest work I’ve ever seen at Phoenix Theatre, and I applaud them for bringing it to Valley audiences with such finesse and flair.

– Lynn

Note: “Avenue Q” is based on an original concept by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. It features book by Jeff Whitty and music/lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Click here to learn about “American Theatre” magazine — which features “20 Questions for Robert Lopez” in its current issue.

Coming up: Art contests and freebies, Puppet shows for children